Gateway Cup part I
by Matthew vandivort
Gateway Cup always feels like going home. Because it is home - I was born and raised in Saint Louis. And so when the To Be Determined crew rolls into town for four days of crit racing over Labor Day weekend it's also an opportunity to visit family and show off my hometown. Going into the 2015 edition of the race the very successful 2013 campaign for the team at Gateway Cup felt a bit distant in the rearview mirror but regardless of what happens in the races Gateway Cup is always a special end to the road season, full of laughs and good times.
the drive, aka "999 Miles to Gateway"
For the 2015 edition we decided to one up our prior experiences by renting a 12 passenger van – complete with TV and Xbox – and making the overnight drive to middle America with our bulldog mascot Winnie in tow. As it turns out it was just about the right mix of crazy and ambitious, setting the stage for my favorite weekend of racing in several years.
Though I will acknowledge a few minutes of abject terror when our UK transplant, Mat Street, took the wheel around 3am with a quick warning that it had been a few years since he had last driven and inquiring – joking we think – which side of the road he should drive on.
Despite some questionable driving technique and some even more questionable pit stops along the way - we learned after the fact that one had been reviewed as smelling worse than a Russian gulag prison camp - we arrived in Saint Louis on Thursday morning in one piece and with celebratory ice cold beers waiting for us from my parents, who were once again putting up with the invasion of nearly a dozen bike racers in every possible room of my childhood home. After the long drive Winnie was perhaps the most relieved out of any of us to be out of the van and onto the couch for a long recovery nap.
Thankfully our arrival time left us plenty of time to both nap and take in a casual spin, which given the elevated late summer temperatures was structured around a stop at one of our local favorites – a snow cone stand a few miles from where I grew up. Refreshed and refueled with a blast of sugar we headed back to the house against a setting sun. All in all not a bad start to the weekend.
Over the next few hours the rest of our crew – those less adventurous or perhaps more intelligent arrived on their flights from New York, California and even Arizona, with the last guest arriving after midnight.
The next morning we officially opened the weekend of racing with our traditional opening ceremony of a meal for breakfast: Chickfilet. Which gave us sufficient time to fine tune and scrub our Garneau Bikes before taking one last pre-race spin, this time with our full contingent of racers.
The only change from the day prior was swapping out the snow cone stand for a nearby coffee and doughnut shop – as it turns out the gourmet doughnut craze has already made it’s way to the midwest. After that breakfast of champions it was time to squeeze the dozen or so bikes in our entourage in the back of our massive Sprinter van and head toward downtown for the opening day of racing.
race 1: Tour De Lafayette
The opening day of racing at Gateway Cup was an admittedly mixed affair – given a plethora of bad luck one could argue that the highlight may have been watching Wedding Crashers in the van pre-race.
But joking aside it was an action packed day of racing with our crew spread out across four or five different fields, with the later races taking place under the lights. The weather tilted toward the warm and humid side, as is typical for Saint Louis in August, and the race organization was top notch. Unfortunately the wide open nature of the course also meant everyone in the very sizeable fields thought they were in the mix going into the finale.
This in turn lead to a somewhat predictable series of crashes that put several of our crew out of contention, including Chris Burati who had the misfortune to have his fork sheared in half in a particularly gnarly wreck - fortunately his body fared far better than his bike. In the end though Mat Street and Donnie came through with good results in their respective fields and spirits remained high as we celebrated with some of the local thin crust pizza (a.k.a the best pizza in the country) before calling it a night with some late night Eddie Murphy stand-up at back at base camp.
Race II: Tour De Francis Park
Day two of racing was more of the same: a fast, four corner course in South Saint Louis, though this time without the twilight racing as the schedule shifted earlier, putting most of our races at the peak of the late summer sunshine.
We set up in a primo spot between corner three and four spent the majority of the day cheering on racers (using a variety of props) and checking out the scene from above with the team’s drone:
Meanwhile residents from the neighborhood rolled out tents and tables to spend the day eating and drinking with a front row view of the action – a great scene for a bike race as we were joined by friends from New York City and across the country.
Unfortunately it was another day of mixed luck as I was caught behind a crash and put up another DNF (that whole lack of form thing wasn’t helping as the weekend went on) but the rest of the crew was more fortunate with Corey rolling the dice on a late race move and both Rog and Street pulling through with another day of strong racing. Oh and we broke out our chicken masks for the first time, so that was fun.
After a full day of racing and cheering, with hydration slowly shifting from gatorade and water to more adult oriented beverages, we once again packed up our massive Sprinter van and headed back to base camp where we celebrated the midway point of Gateway Cup with more beers and carryout from the best BBQ spot in Saint Louis. While the pictures don’t capture it I’m pretty sure at one point in the evening Corey finally resorted to wearing a shirt, but not until after dinner.
Race III: Giro Della Montagna
On Day 3 Gateway Cup shifted to 'The Hill' - a historic Italian neighborhood in South Saint Louis - for the most prestigious of the races, the Giro Della Montagna. It's the venue that more than any other takes on a party atmosphere with the local church running BBQ grills at full speed and the entire neighborhood coming out to watch the racing from the front yards that dot the course.
As racers the party atmosphere took a back seat to the late summer heat, which was in full force - despite our best efforts it was a battle to stay cool, even in the shade.
While the temperatures may have been unpleasant for most, Mat Street didn't seem to mind as he came barreling down the finishing straight at the end of a fast race to take home the victory by a significant margin, putting him front and center for the Gateway Cup omnium victory that would be decided on the final day of racing.
After Mat's victory it was unfortunately a bit downhill for the rest of our number. Rog was sitting pretty in the final laps of his race when a crash directly in front of him took him down and shattered his front wheel. Unfortunately with no free laps at that late stage in the race it was the end of his day.
A bit later Donnie took to the P/1 field where he too was felled by a crash in front of him that sheared his handlebars in half and resulted in another DNF. But with Street's victory we had plenty of reason to celebrate over cold beers to end the day.
Our UK transplant with questionable driving skills will recap the final day of Gateway Cup in his race report, but for my part the weekend finished in many ways with more of the same: bad luck and bad form on the bike, but one hell of a good time thanks to the crew in attendance.
And ultimately the latter is all that matters - sealing up what is probably my favorite single weekend of racing in all of the years that I’ve been at this.
Gateway cup part Ii: Tour de Benton PArk
by Mathew street
With the smell of fresh hops wafting around my nostrils and the sound of crashing carbon snapping finally ceasing for the first time since Friday night, I was the most calm I’d been the entire weekend. ‘Party time’ from the day before was a good 30 seconds up the road and had been away for several laps already. I’d be happy to see him take the win, especially having been denied the start the previous day for living up to his name too much and necking back a cold one pre-race.
I was halfway through the final stage of the Gateway Cup omnium stage race sitting around 10th wheel in a strung out pack, switching our way through the eight corner crit of Benson Park, the home of Budweiser. I had managed to creep up the finishing ranks from 7th on day one, 4th on day two and finally 1st on day three to put myself within one point of taking the lead in the overall. I actually had a very good chance of winning this thing. By the final morning tensions was high, the incremental stress throughout each day of racing was quite intense and not something I was used to. Doing a ‘Party time’ would have certainly settled the nerves but my recipe for drinking lots of beer post-race seemed to be doing the trick so far, so why change.
My form had been coming on nicely leading to Gateway, getting in the break with the big boys in the final CRCA race, although eventually getting dropped but still getting 1st in the bunch sprint and fifth overall had boosted my confidence. Our team are also Gateway vets, they’ve been in attendance for the last three years running, with a high level of success every time. So this being my first year I had all the inside knowledge on each of the varying courses – which days to tail gun, which wheel I needed to be in coming into the final turn in order to win, where to start the sprint, which turns to be wary of.
I always wondered why my teammate Roger Parmelee was so grumpy before races (sorry Rog!) but jovial and soul of the group the rest of the time. This weekend I understood why. Pre-race I’d always been chilled out, cracking jokes and generally being an idiot to make myself relax, yeah I get the sweaty palms, heart rate increases and I need about three toilet trips to get fully settled, but for the most part I’d been able to quash any pre-race nerves. I’ve also never been a person with a burning desire to win. I’m never too disappointed to finish 2nd, as long as I raced well, that’s enough for me. But Gateway was different – I had the fitness. I had the insider knowledge. I could win. All I needed to was to get my head together and focus on the win, this is something I’d never really done. This is where Grumpy Roger comes in. He’s not grumpy at all. He’s just focusing in on the win. So taking a leaf out of his book I would shut myself off pre-race and keep myself to myself, and it sounds cheesy but I guess this is was ‘getting in the zone’. Queue Top Gun theme tune.
I think this reflected in my results too, progressing each day until I finally got the win. Each day getting my head more into the game of winning. As previously mentioned I’d never been crazy about winning. But winning is cool. Really cool. Having the strength to crest the final climb on day three in the prestigious Italian neighbourhood, The Hill, to put myself into fourth wheel coming into the final turn, then unleash my sprint on the downhill and hold it all the way to the line, and having enough time to get my arms fully stretched out, that was fucking cool. I can still feel the glow of the red, white and green of the Italian flag, beaming up off the road and onto the underside of my outstretched arms as I crossed the line.
I ended up holding on for second in the final sprint of the weekend. I was racing a different race that day, the race for the omnium. All I wanted to do was beat the guy ahead of me in the omnium point’s race. He put in a solid dig with a few corners to go. I was able to bridge up to someone on his wheel, coming around 4th wheel into the final corner. He started to put his sprint in early but couldn’t keep it, he barked as I past him, eventually finishing third on the day and second overall. All the stress was over. I had won the omnium.
With the victory in hand we retired back to Matt's house for a giant seafood boil and perhaps a few too many adult beverages - but the laughs were plentiful, especially when certain YouTube videos started getting circulated, and we ended the night with a giant 'selfie' of sorts, all with a bit of singing inspired by some of our weekend TV viewing.
From there all that was left was to get back in the van and make the long drive back to New York City and with it 'real life.'